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Assimilation. Reduction.

Modifications of Consonants and Vowels in Connected Speech.

1. Modifications of consonants in connected speech. Assimilation. Elision.

2. Modifications of vowels in connected speech. Reduction.

3. Sound adjustmentsin connected speech.


1. Modifications of consonants in connected speech. Assimilation. Elision. Language in everyday use is not conducted in terms of isolated, separate units; it is performed in connected sequencesof larger units, in words, phrases and longer utterances.

Consonants are modified according to the place of articulation. Assimilation takes place when a sound changes its character in order to become more like a neighbouring sound. The characteristic which can vary in this way is nearly always the place of articulation, and the sounds concerned are commonly those which involve a complete closure at some point in the mouth that is plosives and nasals which may be illustrated as follows:

1. The dental [t], [d], followed by the interdental [θ], [ð] sounds (partial regressive assimilation when the influence goes backwards from a 'latter' sound to an 'earlier' one), e.g. eigth, at the, breadth, said that.

2. The post-alveolar [t], [d] under the influence of the post-alveolar [r] (partial regressive assimilation), e.g. free, true, that right word, dry, the third room.

3. The post-alveolar [s], [z] before [ʃ] (complete regressive assimilation), e.g. horse-shoe ['ho:ʃʃu:], this shop [ðIʃʃ'ʃɔp], does she ['d٨ʃʃi:].

4. The affricative [t + j], [d + j] combinations (incomplete regressive assimilation), e.g. graduate ['græʤueit], congratulate [kən'græʧuleit], did you ['diʤu:], could you ['kuʤu:], what do you say ['wɔtƷu:'sei].

The manner of articulationis also changed as a result of assimilation, which includes:

1. Loss of plosion. In the sequence of two plosive consonants the former loses its plosion: glad to see you, great trouble, and old clock (partial regressive assimilation).

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2. Nasal plosion. In the sequence of a plosive followed by a nasal sonorant the manner of articulation of the plosive sound and the work of the soft palate are involved, which results in the nasal character of plosion release: sudden, not now, at night, let me see (partial regressive assimilation).

3. Lateral plosion. In the sequence of a plosive followed by the lateral sonorant [l] the noise production of the plosive stop is changed into that of the lateral stop: settle, table, at last (partial regressive assimilation).

It is obvious that in each of the occasions one characteristic feature of the phoneme is lost.

The voicing valueof a consonant may also change through assimilation. This type of assimilation affects the work of the vocal cords and the force of articulation. In particular voiced lenis sounds become voiceless fortis when followed by another voiceless sound, e.g.:

1. Fortis voiceless/lenis voiced type of assimilation is best manifested by the regressive assimilation in such words as newspaper (news [z] + paper); gooseberry (goose [s] +berry). In casual informal speech voicing assimilation is often met, e.g. have to do ['hæf tə'du:], five past two ['faif past 'tu:]. The sounds which assimilate their voicing are usually, as the examples show, voiced lenis fricatives assimilated to the initial voiceless fortis consonant of the following word. Grammatical items, in particular, are most affected: [z] of has, is, does changes to [s], and [v] of of, have becomes [f], e.g. She's five. Of course. She has fine eyes. You've spoiled it. Does Pete like it?

2. The weak forms of the verbs is and has are also assimilated to the final voiceless fortis consonants of the preceding word thus the assimilation is functioning in the progressive direction, e.g. Your aunt's coming. What's your name? (partial progressive assimilation)

3. English sonorants [m, n, r, 1, j, w] preceded by the fortis voiceless consonants [p, t, k, s] are partially devoiced, e.g. smart, snake, tray, quick, twins, play, pride (partial progressive assimilation).

Lip positionmay be affected by the accommodation, the interchange of consonant + vowel type. Labialisation of consonants is traced under the influence of the neighbouring back vowels (accommodation), e.g. pool, moon, rude, soon, who, cool, etc. It is possible to speak about the spread lip position of consonants followed or preceded by front vowels [i:], [i], e.g. tea – beat; meet – team; feat – leaf, keep – leak; sit – miss.

The position of the soft palateis also involved in the accommodation. Slight nasalization as the result of prolonged lowering of the soft palate is sometimes traced in vowels under the influence of the neighbouring sonants [m] and [n], e.g. and, morning, men, come in (accommodation).

Elision or complete loss of sounds, both vowels and consonants, is observed in the structure of English words. It is typical of rapid colloquial speech and marks the following sounds:

1. Loss of [h] in personal and possessive pronouns he, his, her, him and the forms of the auxiliary verb have, has, had is widespread, e.g. What has he done? ['wɔt əziˎd٨n].

2. [1] tends to be lost when preceded by [ɔ:], e.g. always ['ɔ:wiz], already [ɔ:'redi], all right [ɔ:'rait].

3. Alveolar plosives are often elided in case the cluster is followed by another consonant, e.g. next day ['neks 'dei], just one [' ʤ٨s 'w٨n], mashed potatoes ['mæʃ рə'teitəuz]. If a vowel follows, the consonant remains, e.g. first of all, passed in time. Whole syllables may be elided in rapid speech: library ['laibri], literary ['litri].

Examples of historical elision are also known. They are initial consonants in write, know, knight, the medial consonant [t] in fasten, listen, whistle, castle.

While the elision is a very common process in connected speech, we also occasionally find sounds being inserted. When a word which ends in a vowel is followed by another word beginning with a vowel, the so-called intrusive "r" is sometimes pronounced between the vowels, e.g. Asia and Africa ['ei ʃ ər ənd 'æfrikə] the idea of it [ði:ai'diər əvit] ma and pa ['mа:r ənd 'pa:] The so-called linking 'r', is a common example of insertion, e.g. clearer, a teacher of English.

When the word-final vowel is a diphthong which glides to [i] such as [ai], [ei] the palatal sonorant [j] tends to be inserted, e.g. saying ['seijiŋ]; trying ['traiiŋ]. In case of the [U]-gliding diphthongs [əu], [au] the bilabial sonorant [w] is sometimes inserted, e.g. going ['gəuwiŋ], allowing [ə'lauwiŋ].

The process of inserting the sonorants [r], [j] or [w] may seem to contradict the tendency towards the economy of articulatory efforts. The explanation for it lies in the fact that it is apparently easier from the articulatory point of view to insert those sounds than to leave them out.

The insertion of a consonant-like sound, namely a sonorant, interrupts the sequence of two vowels to make it a more optional syllable type: consonant + vowel. Thus, insertion occurs in connected speech in order to facilitate the process of articulation for the speaker, and not as a way of providing extra information for the listener.

The ability to produce English with an English-like pattern of stress and rhythm involves stress-timing(the placement of stress only on selected syllables), which in turn requires speakers to take shortcuts in how they pronounce words. Natural sounding pronunciation in conversational English is achieved through blends, overlapping, reduction and omissions of sounds to accommodate its stress-timed rhythmic pattern, i.e. to squeeze syllables between stressed elements and facilitate their articulation so that the regular timing can be maintained. Such processes are called coarticulatory/adjustment phenomenaand they comprise:

1. change of consonant or vowel quality,

2. loss of consonant or vowels, and even

3. loss of entire syllables: I must go [məssgəu] = vowel change and consonant loss; memory ['memri]= vowel and syllable loss; did you [diʤə] = consonant blending and vowel change; actually ['ækʃli] = consonant blending, vowel and syllable loss.

Syllables or words which are articulated precisely are those high in information content, while those which are weakened, shortened, or dropped are predictable and can be guessed from the context.

2. Modifications of Vowels in Connected Speech. Reduction. The modifications of vowels in a speech chain are traced in the following directions: they are either quantitative or qualitative or both. These changes of vowels in a speech continuum are determined by a number of factors such as the position of the vowel in the word, accentual structure, tempo of speech, rhythm, etc.

The decrease of the vowel quantity or in other words the shortening of the vowel length is known as a quantitative modification of vowels, which may be illustrated as follows:

1. The shortening of the vowel length occurs in unstressed positions, e.g. blackboard [Ɔ:], sorrow [зu] (reduction). In these cases reduction affects both the length of theunstressed vowels and their quality.

Form words often demonstrate quantitative reduction in unstressed positions, e.g.

Is he or ̖she to blame? – [hi:]

But: At last he has ̖come. – [hi]

2. The length of a vowel depends on its position in a word. It varies in different phonetic environments. English vowels are said to have positional length, e.g. knee – need – neat (accommodation). The vowel [i:] is the longest in the final position, it is obviously shorter before the lenis voiced consonant [d], and it is the shortest before the fortis voiceless consonant [t].

Qualitative modification of most vowels occurs in unstressed positions. Unstressed vowels lose their 'colour', their quality, which is illustrated by the examples below:

1. In unstressed syllables vowels of full value are usually subjected to qualitative changes, e.g. man [mæn] – sportsman ['spɔ:tsmən], conduct ['kɒndəkt] – conduct [kən'd٨kt]. In such cases the quality of the vowel is reduced to the neutral sound [ə].

These examples illustrate the neutralized (reduced) allophones of the same phonemes as the same morphemes are opposed.

Nearly one sound in five is either [ə] or the unstressed [i]. This high frequency of [ə] is the result of the rhythmic pattern: if unstressed syllables are given only a short duration, the vowel in them which might be otherwise full is reduced.

It is common knowledge that English rhythm prefers a pattern in which stressed syllables alternate with unstressed ones. The effect of this can be seen even in single words, where a shift of stress is often accompanied by a change of vowel quality; a full vowel becomes [ə], and [ə] becomes a full vowel. Compare: analyse ['ænəlaiz] – analysis [ə'nælisis].

2. Slight degree of nasalization marks vowels preceded or followed by the nasal consonants [n], [m], e.g. never, no, then, men (accommodation).

The realization of reduction as well as assimilation and accommodation is connected with the style of speech. In rapid colloquial speech reduction may result in vowel elision, the complete omission of the unstressed vowel, which is also known as zero reduction.

Zero reduction is likely to occur in a sequence of unstressed syllables, e.g. history, factory, literature, territory. It often occurs in initial unstressed syllables preceding thestressed one, e.g. correct, believe, suppose, perhaps.

The example below illustrates a stage-by-stage reduction (including zero reduction) of a phrase. Has he done it? [hæz hi· ,d٨n it] [həz hI ,d٨n it] [əz i ,d٨n it] [z i ,d٨n it].


3. Sound adjustments in connected speech. Sound adjustmentsin connected speech can be summarized as follows:

Types of adjustments Kinds of adjustments
Adjustments related to consonant-consonant (C-C) linking 1. Assimilations= modifications of a C under the influence of a neighboring C: a) partial / total assimilation: In the phrase ten bikes, the normal form in colloquial speech would be [tem baiks], not [ten baiks] which would sound somewhat 'careful'. In this case, the assimilation has been partial:the [n] has fallen under the influence of the following [b] and has adopted its bilabiality, becoming [m]. It has not, however adopted its plosiveness. The phrase [teb baiks] would be likely if one had a severe cold! The assimilation is totalin ten mice [tem mais], where the [n] is now identical with [m]. b) regressive / progressive / coalescent assimilation: Regressive(or anticipatory)assimilation: the sound changes due to the influence of the following sound, e.g. ten bikes. Progressive(perseverative) assimilation:the C changes because of the influence of the preceding C, e.g. lunch score articulated with [s] becoming [ʃ] under the influence of [ʧ]. Coalescent (reciprocal) assimilation (асиміляція зрощення) is a type of reciprocal assimilation: the first C and the second C in a cluster fuse and mutually condition the creation of a third C with features from both original Cs. This assimilation occurs most frequently when final alveolar Cs [t], [d] are followed by initial palatal [j]. Then they become affricates [ʧ], [ʤ], and this assimilation is called affricatization. Final alveolar Cs [s], [z] before [j] can become palatalized fricatives or sibilants [ʃ] and [Ʒ] respectively (the assimilation is then called assibilation),e.g.: t + j= [ʧ] Is that your dog?, virtue, statue; d + j = [ʤ] Would you mind moving? education, during; s + j = [ʃ] issue, He is coming this year.; z + j = [Ʒ] Does your mother know? The amount of assimilation that occurs in native speaker pronunciation will depend on the formality of the situation, the rate of speech, and the style of the speaker.
Adjustments related to vowel-vowel (V-V), consonant-vowel (C-V), vowel-consonant (V-C) linking 1. Liaison= connecting of the final sound of one word or syllable to the initial sound of the next. The ability to speak English smoothly, to utter words or syllables that are appropriately connected entails the use of linking (or liaison) which is the connecting of the final sound of one word or syllable to the initial sound of the next. Linking [r].In BrE (RP) a word said in isolation never ends in [r]. Nevertheless, in connected speech an [r] may be pronounced in some cases if the next word begins with a vowel sound. This typically happens with a word that ends in one of the vowels, when the following word begins with a vowel sound. far [fa:], [fa:r]. In isolation, or before a consonant sound, this word is, in RP, pronounced [fa:]. Butin a phrase such us far away, far out it is usually pronounced [fa:r]. In GenAm it is always [fa:r], whatever the environment it occurs in. In RP, however, as in other accents (some of New England accents and in New York City) speakers tend to add an intrusive [r] to V+V sequenceeven when there is no r in the spelling of the preceding word. This is called intrusive [r], e.g. comma ['kɔmə], ['ka:mə]. In isolation, the RP form is ['kɔmə]. But in a phrase such put a comma in, it is often pronounced ['kɔmər]. In GenAm it is always ['ka:mər], whatever the environment. Some more examples of intrusive r: vanilla[r] ice cream, the idea[r] of it, Asia[r] and Africa. 2. Accommodation (adaptation)= modifications of C under the influence of the adjacent V or vice versa: e.g. two = labialized [t] under the influence of the rounded [u]; let = more open [e] after [l]. 3. Glottal stop / hard attack=a plosive made at the glottis by the vocal folds. It is symbolized [?].In both BrE and AmE, it is widely used where the following syllable begins with a nasal: atmospheric [,ætməs'ferik] – [,æ?mǝs-], button ['b٨tən] – ['b٨?n]
Adjustments related to sound deletion / insertion   1. Elision(elipsis or omission)= deletion of a sound in rapid or careless speech. the spelling system of English is sensitive to this phenomenon, representing deletion in the contracted forms of auxiliary verbs plus NOT (e.g. isn't, mustn't). In other cases, however, omission occurs without any acknowledgement in the spelling system. Even many native speakers may be unaware of where deletion occurs. Some types of elisiontypically occur within a single syllable and therefore within word. In English they include: • the elision of [t] in [ntS] and of [d] in [nʤ]. Thus lunch [l٨nʧ] may be pronounced [l٨nʧ] or, less commonly, [l٨nʃ]; strange [streinʤ]; may be [streinʤ] or, less commonly, [streinƷ]. • loss of [t] when [nt] is between two vowels or before a syllabic [l]: winter, Toronto, mantle • loss of [t] or [d] when they occur in a sequence or cluster of three consonants:[t] restless, listless, exactly; [d] windmill, kindness, hands the elision of [p] in [mps], [mpt], of [t] in [nts], and of [k] in [ŋks], [ŋkt]. Thus jumped [ʤ٨mpt] may be pronounced [ʤ٨mpt] or, less commonly, [ʤ٨mt], lynx [liŋks] may be [liŋks] or, less commonly, [liŋs]. In casual speech[ə] is also sometimes elided in the first syllable of a word in which the second syllable is stressed and begins with a liquid. The initial syllable then undergoes compression. Thus terrific [tə'rifik] sometimes becomes [t'rifik], or collide [kə'laid] – [k'laid]. They belong only in casual style of pronunciation. Sometimes a pronunciation that was originally the result of elision has become the only possibility for some speakers. Some people have ['kæmrə] as the only pronunciation for camera, or [pli:s] as the only form for police. For many English people it would feel very artificial to pronounce a [t] in postman ['pəusmən]. Loss of the final [v] in OF before words with initial consonants: lots of money, waste of time. Loss of initial /h/ and [ð] in pronomial forms in connected speech: ask her, help him,tell them 2. Epenthesis = inserting of a V or C segment within an existing string of segments, e.g. in English, a stop consonant is often added as a transitional sound between the parts of a nasal + fricative sequence: English 'hamster' /ˈhæmstər/ often pronounced with an added 'p' sound, GA: [ˈhæˑmpstɚ] or RP: [ˈhæmpstə]; English 'warmth' /ˈwɔrmθ/ often pronounced with an added "p" sound, GA: [ˈwɔɹmpθ] or RP: [ˈwɔːmpθ]; English 'fence' /ˈfɛns/ often pronounced [ˈfɛnts] 3. Smoothing= a diphthong optionally loses its second element before another vowel, or it is monophthongized: E.g.: fire ['faiə -'faə - 'fa:]; [au] become [a] try again [tra ə’gein], how about [ha ə’baut]; [ei] becomes [e] stay around [ste ə’raund]; [əu] becomes [ə] going [gəiŋ]
Adjustments on the syllable level   Compressionwhen two syllables, usually both weak, optionally become one. Applies only to [i], [u], syllabic consonants: [i] becomes like [j], e.g. lenient ['li:niənt] − ['li:njənt], diagram [‘daiəgræm] – [‘daəgræm]. Sometimes a sequence of sounds in English has two possible pronunciations: either as two separate syllables, or compressed into a single syllable, two pronunciations are possible: a slower one and a faster one. These compressions are commonly used in RP but not in GenAm.
Weakening   Weakformsare alternate forms of words so reduced in their articulation that they consist of a different set of phonemes. Weakforms differ from strongforms by containing a weak vowel resultant from reduction or by elision of one or more of its phonemes, e.g. can [kən], [kn]. The essential importance of weakforms lies in the fact that their use, which is universal for all forms of mother tongue English worldwide, makes a very large contribution to the characteristic rhythm of English. Failure to use them, which is so common among EFL speakers, can result in bizzarely abnormal effects even if every single other feature is completely idiomatic. Such for example would be the speaking with no use of weakforms in all of the following sentences: The speaker asked for [fə] questions. VS. The speaker asked four[fɔ:] questions. He is going to [tu:] fast instead of [tə] VS. He is going too [tu:] fast. Which flight are you taking? – The five to [tə] six (5.55) VS. The five-two [tu:] – six.

Answer the questions

1. According to what can English consonants be modified?

2. What is connected speech and what is its significance?

3. What does the ability to produce English with an English-like pattern of stress and rhythm involve?

4. What are coarticulatory / adjustment phenomena? Give examples.

5. What syllables are typically articulated precisely and what are weakened, shortened, or dropped in connected speech?

6. Speak on the typology of sound adjustments in connected speech.

7. What are the directions of modifications of vowels?

Література: [2, с. 66-84, 120-130; 4, c. 34 -46, 50-62].


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